Bride’s new life has special meaning

July 02, 2004

Pamela DeWitt-VanWuyckhuyse was nervous the morning of her wedding, May 15. She remembers feeling anxious and odd and had butterflies in her stomach, yet what bride doesn’t.

For her, though, these feelings were an indication of the onset of a heart attack, resulting in shortness of breath and her collapsing during her wedding reception, followed by an emergency trip to the cardiac catheterization laboratory and later the operating room for heart bypass surgery.

“It’s the strangest thing, but I don’t remember much about my wedding day,” the 53-year-old says a month after her ordeal. “Family and friends are bringing over photos to show me, so I can see how everything looked.”

Her doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital told her that the trauma her body experienced, and the medications and surgery used to treat her, often can temporarily affect short-term memory. Little pieces are vaguely coming back, she says, such as walking to the altar to say her wedding vows.

DeWitt-VanWuyckhuyse’s new husband, Mark VanWuyckhuyse, has gladly filled her in on all the details. They were married at 2 p.m. at St. Leo Church in Hilton, and a reception followed at LaRocca’s Party House in Gates. The couple and their guests had eaten, then the bride and groom danced their first dance as husband and wife. Next, DeWitt-VanWuyckhuyse danced with her father, followed by a nephew. It was at that point she collapsed.

An ambulance rushed her to Strong Memorial’s emergency department, then to the cardiac catheterization lab where a team led by Christopher Cove, M.D., associate director of the catheterization lab, John Bisognano, M.D., Ph.D., and George Pancio, M.D., began the process of evaluating her. Her wedding dress was carefully removed, along with some special pieces of heirloom jewelry. Her husband, still in his tuxedo, waited nervously for a diagnosis.

“We wanted to save her, so her wedding day could be remembered for getting a new chance at life,” Cove says.

The cardiologists discovered her heart was functioning at only 20 percent. They cleared one blocked artery using balloon angioplasty, and placed a balloon catheter in her aorta to assist in pumping blood by inflating and deflating as her heart beat. Because fluid had built up in her lungs, she was put on a breathing machine and was taken to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit for observation, while a team of physicians that included cardiac surgeon H. Todd Massey, M.D., contemplated whether bypass surgery could restore adequate function to her heart.

Two days later, on May 17, DeWitt-VanWuyckhuyse was taken into the operating room for quadruple heart bypass. Her surgery went smoothly and her heart has returned to nearly normal function. She was discharged May 27 to the Spencerport home she now shares with her husband.

DeWitt-VanWuyckhuyse is thrilled to be starting her new life, with her new husband and a repaired heart. Although the experience was trying and she is still recovering, she recalls fondly one of the first things she remembers upon waking up after surgery.

“Dr. Bisognano came in to introduce himself to me since he knew I wouldn’t remember meeting him when I was admitted,” she says. “He told me the team members who cared for me were so pleased to be able to give me back to my husband. That’s exactly what they did and I am so grateful.”

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Karin Christensen
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